Physical therapy assistants work side by side along physical therapists, but while physical therapists have to go to school for up to six years, PT assistants only go to school for two (or less, depending on the program). As a PT assistant, you will work with patients who are recovering with from acute injuries or chronic conditions. Your work will help them regain movement and functionality and decrease pain. PT assistants also do other work directly related to patient care, such as cleaning therapy areas, setting up equipment, and taking care of administrative tasks. Physical therapist assistants also play an integral role in diagnostic procedures by helping to observe patients and make notes about their condition, paying special attention to needed areas of improvement. PT assistants often help patients stretch and complete exercises, and they might also massage injured areas to decrease pain and inflammation. As a physical therapist assistant you might also communicate with a patient’s family members and friends to explain their condition and what steps they can take to assist the patient at home.
So how can you tell if you should become a PT assistant?
1. Did the above description sound appealing to you?
First and foremost, you should be interested in the work you do. If you don’t have any interest in the medical field and/or wouldn’t enjoy working with patients, this probably isn’t the right field for you to be in. On the other hand, if you think you would have fun working with patients and are passionate about physical fitness and exercise, then you might excel as a PTA. You should like working in an office environment where your responsibilities will include both therapy-based and office-based tasks.
2. Do you think you would do well in PTA School?
In order to be a physical therapy assistant, you have to go to school for between 18 months and two years, depending on how you construct your school schedule and the specific program to which you apply. Your classes will include some general education courses, but will also require that you study anatomy and physiology, the fundamentals of physical therapist assisting, and specific exercise techniques. If even this list of topics is boring you, choose a different direction! You will only enjoy, and thus succeed, in school if you are passionate about the subject matter.
3. Are you compassionate and empathetic?
Because the field of physical therapy assisting is a helping profession, it is a must that you enjoy helping others. You will be spending a great deal of your day working with patients to help them recover from injuries. Much of the time, your patients will be in pain and some might feel hopeless about their condition. It is your responsibility to comfort them and ease their pain, not just physically, but emotionally. If you are empathetic, this will be a much easier task for you. You should also be able to read people well so you can tell if a shared experience, a joke, or some other method will do the most to put them at ease.
4. Do you have strong communication skills?
You should be able to write and speak on the phone clearly and effectively. This skill will be most pertinent in your administrative duties, where you might have to answer phone calls from patients, draft emails or letters, or speak professionally with insurance companies. The more articulate and clear you are, the more successful you will be in this area. On a related note, you should also have strong interpersonal skills. This will come in handy during one-on-one communication, such as when you are speaking with the physical therapists or working with patients.
5. You should have a passion or health.
Physical therapists are often people who are interested in fitness and follow consistent exercise programs. You should follow their lead and also make sure that you are in good health. This is because you must set a good example for your patients, many of whom you will be coaching through exercise programs and encouraging to stay as active as possible. You might also deal with people who have become prone to injury or pain due to a lack of exercise. In this case, you will be most motivating by being a model of fitness.